Mention the local leather business, and most people think of Aba market, Ariara, Kano tanneries. Yet, right here in the heart of Lagos, Mushin to be precise, there is a thriving and fast growing leather market, supporting creative and dynamic young designers, who are producing leather goods of international standards, but at domestic price points.
Meet the arty, quirky, quick-witted Dorothy Ughenu, a leather designer sitting firmly in the saddle and hoping to get Lagos fashionistas and their ilk from around the world to take notice of the leather world growing in leaps and bounds right here in the metropolis.
In 2010, she took a leap of faith and decided to start an accessories brand, now known as DOT. After researching and experimenting with leather for about a year, a chance meeting with the founder of Lagos Fashion and Design Week – Omoyemi Akerele, resulted in her being chosen as one of the exhibitors for Fashion Week under the umbrella of British Council in 2011. That was a ‘light bulb’ moment, which cemented her love for fashion.
During Lagos Fashion Week the next year, she was one of the selected designers to showcase at the SELFRIDGES/NDANI Pop-up in London in from December 2012 to January 2013.
Young Ughenu’s passion for design has thus resulted in a brand known for its quirkiness and rock-n-roll-ability. DOT designs and manufactures bags, shoes, small leather goods and “Aso-ebi” souvenirs in Lagos, Nigeria.
The brand’s foremost objective is to celebrate and present its love of high fashion, African heritage, and a distinct and unconventional design aesthetic in an exciting and innovative way, to a global audience.
Through DOT, Dorothy aims to bring a fresh and unique perspective to design with the firm belief that fashion is fun, fearless, and individualistic, and should be expressed both as an art form and a way of life. According to her, DOT designs are conversation starters and get you noticed for the right reasons. The mantra is simply “Live Happy”.
Dorothy’s inspiration comes primarily from God, because as she put it, He gives you the inner eye to see things (abstract and non-abstract) differently; but her other sources of inspired designs are from nature, people,shapes and colours, which ultimately become her canvas.
The target market is the upwardly mobile and stylish men and women (16-54) who want quirky and unique designs.
DOT debuted 4 years ago at the Lagos Fashion & Design Week – October 2011, and for this reason, she considers October to be a very special month indeed.
The brand has encountered many challenges – funding, unskilled artisans, lack of a structured retail network, the young age of the fashion industry itself, Power(PHCN)!, limited access to raw materials, people’s mindsets to made in Nigeria products, and counter-productive government policies.
Funding still really is a major issue she says, and banks don’t understand the fashion industry, so they really do not know the right interventions for the industry, and the collateral/criteria for getting loan is very limiting. They still think it’s a frivolous hobby in 2015, and in truth, the retail network is still unstructured though better than before.
Having said that though, the Bank of Industry has a Fashion Fund for women, and it would be interesting to see how that pans out.
The DOT bags have an unconventional design aesthetic and innovation at the brand is a continuous process.
In truth, DOT is still a work in progress by Dorothy’s assessment. Sometimes as she says, “you have to use personal finance to fund the business”, and so to keep costs down, DOT markets its product on social media and other engagement platforms.
Dorothy did not realise creativity and commerce went hand in hand early on. It took a while to figure out, but ‘better late than ever’. If she could do things differently, she would have started with a business plan. Start with a business plan, and half the work is done.
In terms of succession, DOT is almost completely dependent on Dorothy at the moment. This is fairly typical of most small businesses, though Dorothy believes DOT can actually run for upwards of 2 months without her direct involvement.
From Dorothy’s experience, she advices young entrepreneurs to pray for God’s guidance because he is the Pathfinder. Work hard and smart, research, learn, grow, have mentors.
Be original and never give up no matter how tempting it is.